Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
I love to cook, maybe more than most. My favorite way to wind down is with a glass of wine prepping a delicious meal. That said, there are absolutely times where I don't have the time (or mental capacity) to plan for and cook a meal at the end of the day. Right now I'm in the middle of moving to a new apartment and cooking for just myself. To be totally transparent, I barely know where any of my kitchen supplies are among the boxes. Not only do I not have a lot of time to cook, but I need to save my energy for unpacking things at the end of a long day (rather than whipping up an elaborate meal).
We all have busy weeks and hectic seasons in our lives, but we still have to eat. Plus, having a nutritious, tasty meal at the end of a draining day is important for the health of our bodies and minds. Here are the meals I make when I don't have the time (or capacity) to spend much time in the kitchen.
Make a Veggie-Packed Sandwich
If you ask me if I want a sandwich, nine times out of ten the answer is yet. Something about a meal that is so balanced, easy and customizable always speaks to me. To be clear, I'm not advising you to eat exclusively PB&Js when you are feeling stressed or busy. Instead, try to choose a variety of vegetables paired with a health protein, like eggs, tuna or beans. Spreads like guacamole and hummus can take your sandwich to the next level, and also make for great snacking between meals. Our Veggie Hummus Sandwich is one of my go-to's because it is super flavorful, filling and is ready in 10 minutes.
Lean on No-Cook Recipes
When you really don't have the time to cook, then don't. EatingWell has lots of no-cook recipe inspiration to help you have a quick, nutritious meal without even turning on the stove. Recipes like our No-Cook Black Bean Salad and Mixed Greens with Lentils & Sliced Apple are not only delicious and filling, but also affordable if you are on a budget like me. I also love a good snack plate. Think charcuterie, but make it dinner by making sure there's a vegetable or fruit on there too.
One easy way to have meals in a pinch is to prep the components in bulk ahead of time. Make a big batch of rice, roasted or sauteed (or even grilled) veggies, dressing and some protein like chicken, tofu or beans. Then you can throw together healthy bowls and salads throughout the week in no time at all. Spending an hour or two prepping to have meals at the ready all week sounds like a good use of time to me.
Try a Meal Delivery Service
One of my friends (who is also a dietitian) said she only uses a meal delivery service, like HelloFresh or Blue Apron, when she knows she is going to have a really busy week, and I think that is genius. Ingredients are delivered right to your door, are pre-portioned and the recipes can be prepared super simply. These services can get expensive, but it could be worth the time saving to have something you can just throw together for a home cooked meal instead. Plus, it's still a little bit cheaper and healthier than a lot takeout.
Enjoy Breakfast for Dinner
When in doubt, make breakfast for dinner. Breakfast foods are usually quicker cooking than most dinner style recipes and are super adaptable to what you have on hand (we have a bunch of recipes ready in 10 minutes for inspiration). Fry an egg, toast some bread and smear it with avocado. Maybe dice up a fruit salad and voila! it's a healthy meal ready in minutes. Plus, pancakes definitely make any day instantly better.
I love to cook, and I do it a lot (check out the ten things I wish I knew before cooking at home more for details). But sometimes I just really don't have the time like, say, in the middle of moving. Eating at 10pm does not really interest me or fit with my bedtime. That said, there are plenty of ways to stay nourished in busy weeks when you need something easy and fast. Whether it's prepping ahead or having recipes that don't require cooking at all, these are some of the ways I still eat healthy when I have no time to cook.